Setting the blueprint for climate action, with international standards

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Standards aren't just guidelines; they're the blueprints for our collective action towards a greener planet. Join us as we uncover how these essential tools are shaping the path towards carbon neutrality, combating greenwashing, and fostering global collaboration
E47 - Shana Gallagher

Seizing the Potential of Standards in Climate Action

Climate change is an escalating crisis that necessitates immediate, comprehensive, and concerted measures from all sectors of society. While governments and policy play a crucial role in shaping the path forward, there is a growing recognition of the power that the private sector holds in fostering substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Amid this transition towards a more sustainable global economy, standards emerge as a vital tool for defining, guiding, and accelerating collective efforts towards carbon neutrality, says Shana Gallagher in the newest Energ’ Ethic episode.

Inspiring Journeys to Climate Advocacy

The climate crisis is an intensely personal issue for many in the field, with individuals being drawn to the cause through their connections to nature and the world around them. This personal commitment is the catalyst for meaningful and ambitious action. For instance, for Shana, environmental consciousness was awakened early in her life through a poignant experiences that revealed the fragility of our ecosystems and the profound impact of human activities on the planet. Such revelations often set individuals on a path to make transformative changes within their spheres of influence, leading them to champion climate justice and formulate effective strategies to combat climate change. Recognizing climate change as a fundamentally political problem, professionals in this field often transcend the realms of data analysis and social discourse to effectuate change. This progression from understanding to action can involve shifting focus from solely supporting environmental political campaigns to exploring the unique abilities of the private sector to rapidly reduce emissions. Spearheading initiatives within influential entities can amplify the effects of one’s efforts to protect the environment.

The Pivotal Role of International Standards Organizations

Standards provide a solid foundation for industry practices, ensuring efficiency and safety across a broad array of products and services. Organizations such as the British Standards Institution (BSI) and the International Standards Organization (ISO) represent the collective efforts of nations to establish universal benchmarks and guidelines. The historic development of standards has been chiefly industry-specific. However, the urgency of climate change is inspiring a paradigm shift to encompass economy-wide solutions that address the systemic issue of carbon emissions. The initiative to create the world’s first formal and certifiable net zero standard stands as a testament to this evolution. Net zero targets encompass all sectors, demanding a collective redirection away from fossil fuels towards more sustainable sources of energy. By leveraging the intricate network of existing standards and the professionals dedicated to their development and enforcement, the standardization community has the potential to install a robust layer of accountability into the fabric of the economy.

Combating Greenwashing Through Certified Standards

Critical in the fight against climate change is the fight against greenwashing—the practice of making deceptive claims about an organization’s environmental actions. The proliferation of greenwashing occurs in the absence of clear, actionable definitions of climate responsibility, which is something that formal certifiable standards aim to rectify. By delineating what constitutes a credible net zero strategy and plan of execution, these standards offer clarity and enforceable accountability that have been lacking. Standards play an indispensable role in fostering consumer confidence and industry credibility, often underpinning regulatory frameworks. A fundamental aspect of this standardization process is creating a shared language and common understanding across all sectors of the economy. Having a standard definition ensures that entities claiming to be engaged in a particular practice or product really abide by the established quality and composition. While voluntary frameworks initiated by non-profit organizations have played a vital role in rallying corporate participation in climate action, the transition to formal, certifiable standards is viewed as a necessary evolution to empower greater change. Ultimately, the synergy between voluntary standards, formal certifications, and regulatory policies cultivates a robust systemic response to climate change. As stakeholders in the marketplace adopt these widely recognized standards, they not only comply with best practices but also contribute to a larger, collective push towards a resilient, carbon-neutral world.

Enhancing Transparency and Trust in Climate Commitments and Strengthening International Collaboration

The pursuit of setting a globally recognized norm for net zero emissions is not just about creating a measurable and verifiable path for organizations; it’s about fostering international collaboration to ensure that climate commitments translate to harmonized, real-world action. Such collaborative efforts are vital in the global response to climate change and require a comprehensive understanding of the inherent intricacies of different nations and sectors. It is through international bodies like ISO and their vast consortia of member nations that such standards gain the widespread acceptance necessary to influence and strengthen national policies.

The ‘Global Quality Infrastructure’ and Its Influence on Climate Policy

The ‘Global Quality Infrastructure’ (GQI) is an unprecedented system within which national standard bodies like BSI operate harmoniously with entities such as accreditation bodies like the UK accreditation body UKAS. These organizations, together with certification and assurance bodies, create an enforcement mechanism that ensures the diligent implementation and adherence to standards. For countries worldwide, these standards and infrastructure provide a recognized methodology for auditing and verifying an entity’s net zero strategy. This monitoring component is essential for reconciling claims with actual performance, thus reducing instances of greenwashing and fostering genuine sustainability efforts. The GQI serves to establish trust and ensure verification in the complex mechanics of international trade.

Navigating the Complexity of Climate Action Standards

The shift towards formal, certifiable standards such as the impending net zero standard necessitates a thoughtful approach to implementation. As Shana Gallagher highlights, the dynamics of “green hushing” versus proactive climate action can be improved upon by providing a framework that enterprises can confidently follow without fear of misrepresentation. This upcoming ISO net zero standard aims to encapsulate the collective wisdom of various bodies, from private sector initiatives to NGO-driven frameworks, into a consolidated guideline that simplifies the route to credible climate action.

The Lifecycle of Standards: From Creation to Continuous Improvement

Just as the world around us evolves, so too must the standards that govern our pursuit of sustainability. Organizations like ISO are embarking on ambitious programs, such as the London Declaration’s commitment to revise its 24,000 standards to align with the Paris Agreement, highlighting the proactive recognition of the changing needs of the planet. This continual review process involves the participation of diverse stakeholders, ranging from technical experts to industry representatives, to ensure that best practices are not only adopted but also iteratively improved. Inclusion extends to liaison organizations and consumer agencies, who collectively contribute to the refinement of standards to serve the demands of contemporary environmental objectives.

The Concerted Approach: Acting as a Global Conductor

The harmonization and streamlining imbued by these standards are akin to the role of a conductor in an orchestra—uniting disparate instruments to create a cohesive symphony. The ISO’s endeavor to synchronize existing voluntary frameworks and delineate a lucid and credible path to net zero emissions reflects the necessity for orchestrated action amidst the cacophony of individual efforts and multiple ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) frameworks. This consensus-driven approach ensures that each participating entity, regardless of size or sector, finds its role within the grand global endeavor to mitigate climate change. The progressive alignment of ISO’s portfolio of standards with emergent climate science and the Paris Agreement is a clarion call for industries to tune into the rhythm of sustainability and play their part in scripting an eco-conscious future.


As the international community converges on the shared goal of limiting global temperature rise, the refinement and adoption of certifiable standards will not only streamline the process but also provide the much-needed accountability and transparency to drive credible climate action forward. Through these standards, governments, businesses, and citizens can mutually reinforce efforts towards a net zero future where economic activities harmoniously coexist with the health of our planet.

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